Last Updated: May 7, 2019
For a while now, your college search was wide open and full of possibilities. But as college application season gets underway—and your school list seems like it contains every single school in the country—it’s finally time to narrow down your choices. The method? Campus visits.
Although you may think a certain college is perfect for you based on what you’ve learned from family, friends, or the school’s website, the best way to determine whether it will suit all of your academic, social, and personal needs is to go there for yourself. And campus visits make both narrowing down your application list and making eventual college decisions easier.
Now is the time to use any long weekends or other free time in the early autumn to complete tours of colleges you’re interested in. In addition to valuable information you’ll receive from admission representatives and current students, a campus visit provides a view of the school that no newsletter or brochure can. Are you feeling the vibe?
It may seem silly, but one of the most useful pieces of information you gain from a campus visit is experiencing its overall feel. If you’re going to live and learn on this campus for the next four (or more) years, you want to genuinely feel content, comfortable, and confident when you’re there. Ideally, you’ll get a sense of belonging as well as excitement—and that combination is not something to be ignored.
While motivations for picking a college usually stem from the location, majors, and affordability, the vibe of the college is definitely comparable in terms of importance. Nagging feelings of homesickness and stress are sure to develop as you adjust to the college experience, and they leave little room for overarching feelings of discomfort or dissatisfaction with the college of your choice.
When visiting a campus, pay close attention to your gut. Who cares if it’s cliché—it is essential to “trust your gut” in this instance. When stepping onto the campus, does a smile involuntarily stretch across your face? Does excitement bubble up in your chest while you pass by your potential living space, classrooms, and classmates? Take a moment to really analyze how the college makes you feel. Granted, you’ll want to explore a little to really get a chance to let those feelings develop. But determining whether the campus gives you a positive vibe or leaves you needing more will often hit you within a few minutes of entering campus.
Campus visits can truly make or break a college decision. No information session is going to tell you how the school makes you feel. It is impossible to truly convey the vibe of a school through statistics or even current student reviews and social media commentary. Taking time to immerse yourself in the college is the truest test to see if it’ll work for you.
In addition to attending a guided tour of a college campus, consider staying a while after the tour ends if time permits. [Editor’s note: you might be able to stay overnight in the dorm! You’ll have to plan this in advance, of course, but talk to your admission counselor to see if it’s a possibility.] Take a walk around the campus and the surrounding area, and pretend it’s a normal afternoon and you’re on your way to class. For a moment, block out all your concerns about cost, picking a major, and other logistics and just appreciate how the college makes you feel. Are you inspired and energized? If the college works with your budget and educational goals in addition to your personality, then it’s a true contender. And don’t forget that you can visit campuses multiple times! If you can, go before you apply as well as after you’ve received any acceptance letters. This is particularly helpful if you’re on the fence about a certain school or are trying to decide between multiple options.
College should be a place where you are encouraged to grow as both a student and person. But everyone is different, which is why a campus visit is so essential to finding a school that works for you. Use campus visits to find a school that makes you excited to learn, to grow, to experience life in an atmosphere of safety, comfort, and adventure. That’s where you’ll find the best overall college experience.